NFL draft makeover: Zach Wilson needs help, but Jets' defense also a concern

·6-min read

Every week during the 2021 NFL season, we’re going to — just being honest here — overreact to what we’ve seen on the field for a different NFL team and begin projecting NFL draft prospects at positions of concerning need.

Think of it as a mini one-team mock draft, with early (Rounds 1-2), middle (Rounds 3-4) and late (Rounds 5-7) prospects at each team’s respective position of concern.

This week’s NFL draft makeover is the New York Jets. What areas will they target next spring to help round this roster into competitive form?

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

The Jets are 0-2. Again. That's four of the past five years now. But there's at least hope of a positive trajectory, having replenished the team's young collection of talent over the past two years.

General manager Joe Douglas has drafted 19 players in 2020 and 2021 combined, and the most important one — quarterback Zach Wilson — remains a promising talent, despite his four-interception game Sunday and a below-average completion rate through two games.

The Jets still need infrastructure. The problems don't all start and end with Wilson. Through two games, the Jets rank next to last in sack percentage allowed and haven't run the ball consistently; they also remain thin, personnel-wise, on defense and have only one takeaway so far.

The good news is that this is still the first year for Robert Saleh and his staff, and Douglas has quality draft assets remaining in the till. They have extra selections in the 2022 NFL draft in Round 1 (Jamal Adams trade), Round 2 (Sam Darnold trade), Round 4 (the Darnold and Chris Herndon trades, although they sent their own fourth away in the Adams deal), and Round 5 (Avery Williamson trade), while giving up some of their later-round selections.

In short, they're once again major draft players in 2022, especially if the Jets continue to rebuild this year. If the Seahawks stumble in a tough division as well, the Adams trade could yield even more with Seattle's first-round pick.

The Jets need help on both sides of the ball. So after stockpiling young players the past two years, many of them on offense, how might the Jets approach the 2022 class? Let's take a look.

Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton looks to be the best prospect at his position and one of the best in the 2022 NFL draft class. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton looks to be the best prospect at his position and one of the best in the 2022 NFL draft class. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Early-round prospect

Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton

This match might make some scratch their heads but there's some rhyme and reason here.

Marcus Maye is a free agent to-be and has yet to receive a new deal. Will the Jets go big and sign him to a top-of-the-market contract? The league's top eight salaries at the position are north of $14 million per year. That feels hefty. We're not sure the Jets would pay that for Maye.

Hamilton is the best safety in the draft and a singular talent in terms of his size, anticipation and athleticism. He can be a true game-changer on the back end, and this is a division that has loaded up with young QBs. The Jets will be facing Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa (we assume) and Mac Jones twice a season for years to come.

With Maye due for free agency, Adrian Colbert just a guy, Ashtyn Davis being beset by injuries and Lamarcus Joyner (when healthy) more of a hybrid slot player, landing a true center fielder who also can work effectively in the box would be a coup for Saleh's defense. 

Of course, a cornerback also makes big sense here. If they're in range for LSU's Derek Stingley Jr. or one of the other top CB prospects, that is a direction the Jets could take.

Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert may be in play in the middle rounds for the New York Jets. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert may be in play in the middle rounds for the New York Jets. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Mid-round prospect

Ohio State TE Jeremy Ruckert

The Jets will want to get some more help for Wilson and another offensive lineman will be on the table at some point in the draft.

But here we peg them a talented receiver at tight end who also can be a big help as a run blocker. A converted high school wideout, Ruckert is a major work in progress as a pass blocker. But his effort and impact as a run blocker gives him a true two-way profile as a prospect at a position stocked with many uni-taskers these days.

With all the WR talent the Buckeyes have had in recent years, there are only so many targets to go around. That's why Ruckert hasn't been featured more, we suspect; his five targets this season vs. Oregon matched a career high, and he has never had more than four catches in any game yet.

Ruckert remains a major seam and red-zone threat when featured. He has nine TDs on only 34 career catches, with two of them coming in the national semifinal game against Clemson in January. Many thought Ruckert — who has big, soft, reliable hands and fluid movement skills — might declare for the draft after the playoff, but he returned to school and easily should be a top-100 selection.

Plus, he's a Long Island kid, giving this pick a hometown connection. We're fans of Ruckert and put him in the better-pro-than-college-player category.

Late-round prospect

Texas A&M CB Myles Jones

At some point the Jets will need to bolster the cornerback spot. It could be far earlier than this, but don't rule out the Jets doubling up at the position, as Douglas has done previously a few times.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Jones suffered a leg injury late last season, and it apparently kept him out of the first two games this year. Perhaps the staff was just being cautious, but it's a reason to be concerned. Nevertheless, he returned to action last week against New Mexico and faces a terrific matchup this weekend, potentially covering Arkansas' massive receiver, Treylon Burks.

Texas A&M cornerback Myles Jones has length and playmaking ability that could appeal to the Jets. (Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Texas A&M cornerback Myles Jones has length and playmaking ability that could appeal to the Jets. (Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jones is long and athletic, but lean. He has had a few clunkers in his career (Alabama in 2020, plus multiple games in 2019). But Jones is a good fit in Saleh's system and has playmaking chops — four interceptions and 18 passes defended in 1,202 career pass-coverage snaps, per PFF.

We like this fit in the late rounds unless Jones catches fire or tests through the roof this spring. It's projected to be such a deep CB class that he easily could slip to that range and help refurbish a Jets secondary that remains a few pieces short.

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